Best Free Prepaid Debit Cards 2016
A prepaid debit card can be used as an alternative to a bank account or credit card, or in tandem with a bank account as an effective budgeting tool. Sometimes individuals with bank accounts decide to use prepaid debit cards to improve their budgeting ability.
Prepaid options are ideal for individuals struggling with overdrafts or just want more control over how they’re spending their money. Some people simply prefer prepaid debit cards over checking accounts or credit cards. Whatever your reason for choosing a prepaid card, it’s important to understand that prepaid debit cards can charge more fees than traditional bank debit cards and credit cards.
When looking for the best prepaid debit cards you want to investigate their fee structure and find cards with low or no fees on the transactions and services, you will use the most. Additionally, you should know that prepaid cards don’t have to meet the same federal regulations that bank account debit cards and credit cards must meet – so it’s a good idea to consider whether or not the funds you deposit on a prepaid credit card are FDIC-insured.
Two Types of Prepaid Credit Cards
Prepaid cards are not all created equally. There are two major types of prepaid cards to choose from: non-reloadable cards and reloadable prepaid cards.
- Non-reloadable prepaid debit cards hold a cash-value until you use the funds. These cards are often used as prepaid gift cards given to the recipient instead of cash. You make a deposit on the card, and that amount becomes the available balance on the card. Non-reloadable prepaid cards are commonly found online, drug stores, convenience stores and supermarkets. You pay for the card that holds a set value (usually $25, $50 or $100) and then use the card to make purchases. When the cash-value has been spent, the card no longer has any value, and you can’t reload the card to use it again.
- Reloadable prepaid debit cards can be refilled through various methods. You make an initial deposit on the card, use your balance, and then you can reload the card with another deposit. These cards are often used as alternatives to traditional financial accounts.
Best Free Prepaid Cards
Non-reloadable prepaid cards are rarely free since they have a purchase fee. If you’re looking for a truly “free” prepaid card, you’ll want to look at reloadable prepaid debit cards. You must have and provide your Social Security number in order to obtain a reloadable prepaid card under the provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act.
Below is a list of 3 of the top free options for prepaid debit cards. In these instances, “free” means there are no activation or set-up fees and no monthly fees but keep in mind there may be fees for other services or transactions:
Bluebird by American Express
Bluebird by American Express is offered through American Express and Wal-Mart and accepted everywhere American Express cards are accepted. You can get the card by registering for a free Bluebird account online or by mobile phone, and there is no credit check required.
There are six ways to load money onto the Bluebird by American Express:
- Depositing cash at a Wal-Mart
- Mobile check deposit through the Bluebird app
- Transfer money from a linked bank account
- Set up direct deposit with your employer
- Have your tax refund direct deposited to your card
- Transfer money from a linked debit card
You can use the Bluebird by American Express card for free in stores and at 24,000 MoneyPass ATMs. Bluebird does not charge a monthly fee.
Other perks of Bluebird by American Express card include a free bill pay service, fraud and purchase protections similar to traditional credit cards, and check writing. You can link your master Bluebird account to up to four “family” accounts.
H&R Block Prepaid MasterCard
One of the best prepaid debit cards you could have in your wallet is the H&R Block Prepaid MasterCard. The funds are FDIC-insured, which is a true perk of this prepaid card as not all funds deposited on a prepaid card are held with an FDIC-insured institution. The H&R Block Prepaid MasterCard is accepted everywhere MasterCard is accepted.
There is no monthly maintenance fee provided you use the account at least once during the month. (If you have no activity on your prepaid MasterCard for a period of two months, there is a $4.95 charge for the month) and there is no fee when you use the card to make a purchase.
You can add funds to your card with an employer direct deposit for free, or transfer from a bank account to your H&R Block Prepaid MasterCard for free. If you need to deposit funds while you’re in a store, you can reload your card at over 50,000 retail locations, including CVS pharmacy, WalMart, 7-Eleven, Rite Aid, and Kmart stores. Some locations allow reloading for fees of $1.95 while others charge as much as $4.95. You can also reload your card by cashing a check at a participating Walmart for a $3.75 reload fee.
Navy Federal Credit Union GO Prepaid Card
The Navy Federal Credit Union GO Prepaid Visa Card can be used everywhere Visa is accepted. Like traditional Visa credit cards, the Navy Federal Credit Union GO Prepaid Visa Card is protected by a zero-liability policy. There are no monthly fees, no activation fees, no fees for accessing ATMs in the network, and no fees when you use your card to make a purchase.
You can deposit money to your Navy Federal Credit Union GO Prepaid Visa Card online, keep track of your purchases, and check your account balance from your free online account.
If you would like to give someone a card that is also connected to your account, you can order a card for the joint account. A prepaid card can be used for your teenager’s allowance, for the Nanny, or for a senior parent, for example.
You can also use the Navy Federal Credit Union GO Prepaid Card to improve your budgeting as you can have up to five cards, so you could use one for groceries, one for household items, one for entertainment, etc. This is an easy way to keep track of your spending categories and improve your budget.
Tips for Considering Prepaid Credit Cards
Like all financial accounts, prepaid cards have both advantages and disadvantages that should be carefully considered according to your unique situation before you make a selection. Even the best prepaid credit cards may not work for all users – so do a little research before grabbing a card and depositing money.
A major advantage of prepaid cards for individuals who have poor credit is that the ability to obtain a card is not affected by your historical use of credit cards, bank accounts, or your credit score. The downside of using prepaid credit cards is that they also do nothing to help you establish or rebuild your credit history, or to improve your chances of getting a traditional bank account in the future.
When comparing options for the best prepaid debit cards, consider how you plan to use your account. If you use ATMs frequently, for example, make sure you can do so without fees and that the network of ATMs is in your most common travel areas. Also, consider when and how you will reload your prepaid card so you can compare costs for reloading, and preferably find a prepaid card that allows you to deposit funds without paying any fees.
People who sometimes struggle with a checkbook and paying overdraft fees will probably find budgeting easier with a prepaid card that does not allow you to write checks. It eliminates the possibility of having a negative account balance and keeps you on track.
Finally, when comparing the wide variety of prepaid debit card options, don’t forget to consider whether or not there are any deposit limitations and if there are – will the limits affect your ability to manage your finances?